Eleven thousand activists gathered in D.C. this weekend for the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest right-wing gathering of the year. Groups like Youth for Western Civilization and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays spewed the hate speech that one might expect from a gathering of this sort.
However, the groups with the largest, most visible presence at CPAC did not promote a message of hate. Libertarian organizations like Young Americans for Liberty and Our America Initiative were the talk of the conference, and social conservatives lost handily in the annual straw poll.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who both favor the legalization of marijuana and oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, finished first and third in the poll, respectively. Only two percent of respondents chose promoting traditional values as their most important issue. Even Students for Sensible Drug Policy had a presence at the event, handing out flyers that stated “The War on Drugs is a War on Conservative Values.”
But the pro-war social conservatives fired back after the conference. Young Americans for Freedom (or maybe fascism, they never can seem to remember which it is) kicked Paul out of the organization, citing his opposition to the war. YAF Chairman Michael Jones said, “God has blessed the United States with liberty and the strength and heart to spread that liberty to all of his children. Rep. Paul has abandoned this mission, abandoned the United States’ citizens, and abandoned the citizens of the world in their quest for their God-given natural rights.”
Libertarians are making the effort, reaching out to conservatives and offering them an opportunity to stay relevant. Instead of bashing Paul and his supporters, conservatives should be attempting to emulate them. What Republican besides Paul or Johnson could inspire and motivate a large-scale youth movement in 2012?
Young people understand that there is no reason to get excited about conservatives like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who talk about small government but still want to control what substances (or genitalia) people can put into their own bodies. Only a consistent message of freedom will appeal to those young people who realize that government has failed us, and most mainstream Republicans certainly don’t offer that.